“Chicago Med” star Torrey DeVitto

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Torrey DeVitto as Dr. Natalie Manning in “Chicago Med” (Photo by Nino Munoz/NBC)

After years of living from project to project, Torrey DeVitto finally has a home base in one of Dick Wolf’s famously long-running series.

When the hit drama “Chicago Med” returns to NBC later this year, the doctors at the fictional Gaffney Chicago Medical Center will face off against the same coronavirus pandemic their real-life counterparts have been grappling with since March.

Actress Torrey DeVitto, who plays the brilliant emergency pediatrics specialist Dr. Natalie Manning, says the show won’t time jump or ignore current events. Instead, the crown jewel of executive producer Dick Wolf’s “One Chicago” franchise will embrace its creator’s ripped-from-the-headlines approach and lean into our socially distant, mask-wearing reality.

“We are really staying current, staying up with where everyone is in real life. [COVID-19] is a huge topic for our show,” DeVitto says. “That’s what I love with all the Dick Wolf shows. You get to see what’s happening in the world play out on TV in the drama.”

The show’s fifth season was cut short in mid-March, when it was halted due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Production for a November premiere was slated to resume in late September, complete with stringent health and safety protocols. But a positive test within the production team postponed shooting for two weeks, sending the cast and crew into a precautionary quarantine.

Speaking exclusively with Fra Noi from her New York home, DeVitto says producers allowed her to isolate outside of Chicago, where the show films. So she took an 11-hour car ride back east and plans to hop back in the car for the return trip when filming starts up again.

“It’s the beginning of everything, and people are trying to be extra cautious and careful, which I totally appreciate,” DeVitto says. “I can’t lie and say I don’t want to get back to work, but everyone’s health is the most important thing right now.”

For DeVitto, “Chicago Med” — which launched in 2015 and averages an impressive 11 million viewers weekly — offered a compelling leading role and a welcome showcase for her talents after two decades of perseverance and hard work in the industry. The road to success wasn’t always smooth, according to DeVitto, and there was plenty of disappointment and rejection along the way.

“If you want to have a career in this business, you have to feel left out a lot, flying out early from a Thanksgiving holiday break for a callback when you didn’t even get the part or missing a friend’s birthday party,” DeVitto says. “You have to make sacrifices, and you have to have a tough skin.”

Although she’s had prominent roles in big shows such as “The Vampire Diaries,” “Army Wives,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “One Tree Hill,” “Med’s” Dr. Manning has allowed DeVitto to finally build a character from the ground up as part of the core cast. Plus, the Dick Wolf imprimatur comes with career stability for actors. His shows famously run for years, and “Med” is no exception, getting a three-season renewal last year that will take the program into 2023. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and DeVitto says she’s not taking it for granted.

“Once I booked the show, all my friends and my manager were like, ‘Be prepared. It’s a Dick Wolf show. You’ll be there forever. He knows TV, and his stuff just lasts,’” DeVitto says. “Every year, we get picked up, and I’m always like, ‘Wow!’ I never get tired of that feeling.”

Born on Long Island, New York, and later raised in Winter Park, Florida, DeVitto is third-generation Italian American on her father’s side, with her grandfather’s parents hailing from Naples and her grandmother’s parents from Sicily. Growing up, DeVitto fondly recalls big Italian dinners at her grandparents’ house on Sundays, where Grandma and Grandpa, both with different dialects, playfully argued about who was speaking true Italian. “It was cool to have that experience,” DeVitto says. “I’ve always wished and hoped that I could create that when I have kids one day, growing up in a big family like that.”

She was thrilled to be able to finally meet her extended family in Sicily last summer. “They all showed up at the airport,” she fondly recalls. “They can’t speak English, but we can speak through emotion and sign language. It was one of the best trips.”

In addition to deep Italian roots, DeVitto’s family also has some serious show business bona fides. Her father, Liberatori “Liberty” DeVitto, was the longtime recording and touring drummer for singer Billy Joel. During Joel’s “Storm Front” tour in the early 1990s, a young Torrey DeVitto took an interest in the band’s violinist. She began playing the instrument herself after her father, who performed in ear-shattering bands all his life, was assured she wouldn’t suffer any hearing loss from it. The younger DeVitto has performed on recordings for the likes of Stevie Nicks and Raphael Saadiq. Her musicianship has also been featured on “Chicago Med” as well as in the 2019 Hallmark Channel holiday film “Write Before Christmas,” in which she plays an old-school romantic with a penchant for the cello. She has starred in a total of four Christmas-themed productions, including two more for Hallmark — “Best Christmas Party Ever” (2014) and “The Real St. Nick” (2012) — as well as the 2007 independent film “Herber Holiday.”

DeVitto began modeling at age 15 but quickly realized the profession wasn’t for her. At the urging of a photographer, she took acting lessons to reduce her shyness on camera, and she quickly fell in love with the craft, dreaming of moving to Hollywood after high school. Still wondering if she could make a go of it as a professional musician, she turned to her father, who gave her some sage advice.

“My father is someone I have so much respect for,” DeVitto says. “He came into my room and said, ‘The only advice I could give you is to not try to be a jack of all trades. Just pick something and try to be the best at it.’ I thank him every day for that advice, and I took it with me when I went to LA.”

When she’s not memorizing scripts filled with medical jargon, which she likens to learning classical music pieces during her youth, DeVitto uses her cache to work for causes and organizations near and dear to her heart. They include ending animal cruelty and educating teens about sexual assault and consent. She also volunteered for more than a decade as a hospice worker and currently serves as an ambassador for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

“Because of the platform acting has given me, I can really work hard for the causes that mean the most to me,” DeVitto says. “It makes me work extra hard so I can keep reaching people.”

The above appears in the December 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Jim Distasio

Jim Distasio is an award-winning writer, director, editor. His documentary “Sawdust: Life in the Ring,” about the Zoppè Family Circus, was an official selection at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the River’s Edge Film Festival. His documentary “5,000 Miles From Home,” about the impact of World War II on Chicago’s Italian-American community, earned two local Emmys on six nominations. Distasio earned a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where he currently serves as an adjunct lecturer. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Tribune Magazine, American Profile, Vine Line and Fra Noi.

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